Happy Campers II (Part 2)

[This is the last of a two-part post.]

“I want to know what became of the changes/We waited for love to bring/Were they only the fitful dreams/Of some greater awakening?” —Jackson Browne

Lisa’s answer was no, which means it was probably the most useful rejection I’ve ever received. Here’s why.


Dan, Dean (pictured below right, with basketball), Kelvin and I were “in the box,” atop the baking-hot roof of the stagecoach parked in the softball outfield. A giggling blonde girl named Sharon tossed ice cubes up at us.

It was Thursday afternoon, July 28, 1977. Earlier we’d been playing one of the girls’ cabins, Arakara, in volleyball, then played the guys from Ottawa in football up at the field. I wrote that we’d taken a break, but really we were ejected from the game.

Our team emerged the victors, so after 5 p.m., the diary reports, “I walked along the beach, cleaned up, then went up to the cabin to change for the dress-up/banquet dinner.” I can still feel the nervousness in those words: will she or won’t she go with me?

Joey and I met up with Sharon at the girls’ cabins, where I saw Lisa. It was then she said she was just going to eat with Mary, Cindy and the other girls of her cabin. I felt like I’d been socked in the breadbasket.

The worst of it was I sat alone at the banquet for five minutes before storming out to go play piano up at the chapel “with my dark glasses on.” I’d forgotten that Lisa and I had reconnected over a mutual appreciation of Jackson Browne’s The Pretender album, and we shared lyrics every chance we got. At this point, we were past sharing anything. I was livid.

Chapel hour was directly after the banquet, so I was already there when campers arrived for the service. That didn’t help cool me down any, and afterward Mary suggested ways I could “get back at Lisa,” which I seriously contemplated. The canteen time followed chapel service. It was my last opportunity to act. The diary says: “I hooked a new idea.”

Where it came from, I don’t know. But I decided to not look back in anger. I thought of all the things I liked about Lisa, and how they still really mattered to me. It didn’t depend on “owning” another person, or really expecting much from them outside of letting them be who they are—because that’s why you liked them in the first place.

So I approached Lisa at the canteen, asking if we could talk. At a nearby picnic table we sat down and talked about “everything from music to boyfriends and girlfriends…and about ourselves and our histories from July 1976 to July 1977 … The most important thing is,” the diary went on, “she explained the guy she was going with back home is very trusting and she cares very much for him.” It was absolutely purging. “The best thing I did all day,” I wrote.

In fact, I truly believe it was a turning point in my sentimental education.

Call it emotional intelligence, empathy—whatever—what began before midnight at a church camp in northern Minnesota on Thursday, July 28, 1977, opened up a new world: rewarding long-term friendships with all the women I’ve met since that day.

The rest of camp was a breeze: Friday we played Mohian in water polo, Steve went waterskiing and, after a picnic dinner in front of the dining hall, there was a rodeo in the horses’ corral. The highlight of the week, after chapel and canteen, included a talent show where Steve and I, he on guitar, me on piano, played Procol Harum’s “Butterfly Boys” in front of our fellow campers. Some guy named Davey was “the studly emcee.”

The final day at camp, Saturday, was rainy again. After breakfast we packed up and loaded into buses back to the city. “Denise, Sharon, Jill and Sandy, Steve and I, ate, drank Cokes, sang, listened to Sandy’s recorded music and laughed all the way into Crystal, where in the rain we all waved goodbye.”

~ by completelyinthedark on May 5, 2012.

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